Dredging operations descend on Kampot

Vong Sokheng & Sebastian Strangio
The Phnom Penh Post

Sand-dredging operations are on the rise in Kampot province, according to local fishermen, who say they are concerned about the possible environmental degradation and loss of livelihood stemming from the operations.

Villagers from Traey Koh commune, in Kampong Bay district, say that for the past two months, dredgers belonging to the local Keo Tha company have been plying the Kampot River between areas upstream of Kampot town and the ocean, unloading sand into large container ships moored offshore.

Neak Sen, a representative of 300 fishing families in Traey Koh commune, said 10 dredging boats – each with an estimated capacity of 500 cubic metres – were operating in the river, each extracting two loads per day.

“We are very concerned about our future livelihoods while the operation takes place offshore,” he said, estimating that it stood to impact around 1,000 people in Traey Koh and Chong Kreal communes.

Ly Yen, a 50-year-old Traey Koh fisherman, said the removal of the sand, which he said is intended for export to Singapore, had resulted in riverbank collapses.

“We are concerned about the collapse of the riverbank and declines in our fish and crab catches,” he said.

Hallam Goad, a Kampot-based adviser for housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the company appears to have “ramped up” its operations in the past 10 days.

The Kampot operation appears to violate a ban on sand exports announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen in May and July this year, due to its adverse environmental effects.

Traey Koh commune chief Pov Son said Keo Tha, which was dredging before Hun Sen’s ban, was given an official dispensation to continue operations last month, “in order to relieve flooding in the town”.

Keo Tha is reputedly owned by a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Defence, said Try Chhoun, a provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.

White gold

The situation in Kampot bears a striking resemblance to that in Koh Kong, where the Hong Kong-based Winton Enterprises, in partnership with the local LYP Group of companies, is extracting thousands of tonnes of sand per week from the province’s coastal estuaries, also for export to Singapore.

The operations have also provoked the ire of local fishermen, who held a series of protests last month demanding a halt to the dredging.

At the time, Pech Siyon, director of Koh Kong’s Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, told the Post that permission for the continuation of the Winton/LYP operation had also been granted to prevent flooding in the provincial town.

Mu Sochua, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker who represents Kampot, said she did not know the details of the operations there but said the CPP’s selective application of the ban was unsurprising.

She said monopoly concessions were granted to companies – especially those connected with powerful okhna, or tycoons – who funnelled a portion of their profits back to the party coffers. Such concessions, Mu Sochua said, often failed to take into account the environmental and social impacts.

“These people have depended on fishing for many generations. Pumping out the sand is extremely detrimental to their livelihoods,” she said.

Som Vichet, deputy director of the provincial Department of Industry, Energy and Mines, said he did not wish to discuss the issue over the phone.